Protein, whey, quinoa, skin looseness and cellulite - facts and hype

Protein, skin firmness and cellulite

Why is protein so important for my skin?

Literally every body tissue that gives you shape and makes you look firm and young is made of protein. Your skin, muscles, fascia, ligaments and even part of your bones are all made of proteins, such as collagen and elastin, among others. Collagen provides firmness, whilst elastin provides elasticity. A high protein level in those tissues can only make you toned and fit, whilst on the other hand, excessive fat and water gives you that loose, flabby, "cellulite-y" look (lack of firmness is one of the main facets of cellulite).

These skin, muscle, bone and connective tissue proteins (let's collectively call them "beauty proteins") degrade with time and need to be broken down and replaced with newly synthesised proteins by cells such as myocytes (muscle cells), fibroblasts (connective tissue cells, including skin cells) and osteoblasts (bone cells).

Beauty proteins can be degraded due to a variety of reasons. Some factors are listed below:

  • Simple wear and tear (ageing)
  • High sugar/excessive carbohydrate intake (sugar is lethal for body proteins as it degrades them via a process called glycation)
  • Immune cell action (as when you suffer from chronic, low grade inflammation, for example)
  • Fat cell action. Fat cells actively break down the collagen structures around them in order to grow and accommodate more fat. This is a major cause of cellulite and the flabbiness that is associated with it

To replace your "beauty proteins" with newly synthesised ones and maintain your skin firmness, your cells need aminoacids and peptides that can only be derived from dietary protein. This means eating fish, chicken, lean red meat (including lean beef, lean pork, lean lamb and game), eggs, low fat cheese (such as cottage and ricotta cheese), low fat milk, pulses (beans, lentils, peas, fermented soya products etc.).

Contrary to popular belief, foods like quinoa (loads of carbs and little protein) and nuts (loads of fat and little protein) are NOT PROTEIN-RICH FOODS.


But isn't too much protein bad for you?

Most women today don't realise how important protein is for their physical appearance and overall health, and unwittingly or purposely follow a low protein diet, with disastrous consequences. Excessive consumption of fatty red meat may be bad for you, but having no red meat at all could potentially be equally bad. With this negative attitude towards red meat among the female population it is no wonder that most women today are chronically borderline or actually anaemic. Not to mention cellulite and loose skin, of course...

I am amazed of how little protein my female friends have. Quite often the amount of protein consumed is negligible, so it is no wonder why cellulite and loose skin is such a big issue today. The truth is that protein has been given plenty of bad press in the last couple of decades. Many nutritionists and naturopaths advise that you don't need a lot of protein because an excess "will tire your liver and kidneys". As a result most women avoid protein altogether, in favour of carbohydrates that "give you energy".

What women don't realise though, is that unless you burn those "energy" carbs with exercise and general physical activity, they will inevitably become "stored energy" i.e. fat, and they will add inches to your thighs and millimetres to the height of your cellulite "bumps". Hence the popular adage about sweets and carbs: "once in the lips forever in the hips".

This negative consequence is in addition to the effect of sugar on skin protein degradation due to glycation, mentioned above. Not to mention the negative effect fat cell expansion has on skin firmness, again mentioned above. So to conclude, things are very simple: lack of protein makes your skin loose, especially when combined with an excess of carbs and/or fat. Period.

And the other fact is that most women will not come anywhere close to tiring their kidneys and liver due to eating fish, chicken or low-fat red meat. It is just very difficult for most women to eat enough protein to exhaust their kidneys and liver. You need to eat like a hungry bodybuilder for that or to consume scoops and scoops of protein power. Nobody really does that...


How about saturated fat contained in protein food then?

Indeed there is only one problem with red meat: saturated fat. Without saturated fat red meat is absolutely fine, especially if the meat is organic. However, the fact is that there are cuts of beef, lamb and pork that contain negligible amounts of saturated fat, i.e. as little as 2-4% fat. All you have to do is choose lean (red) cuts of meat when you do your shopping and look at the fat content displayed on the label - anything below 5% is absolutely fine.

And if you do not like red meat, there are always poultry, fish, seafood and eggs to help you boost your protein intake levels without the problem of saturated fat.


What if I am a vegetarian / vegan?

This is not to say that eating a vegetarian diet will not necessarily provide you with enough protein. The only problem with vegetarian diets is that it is so much more difficult to achieve your daily protein quota, unless you eat a loooot of pulses, eggs, milk and low fat cheese without getting allergic to dairy and fed up of pulses. Unfortunately depending just on tofu day in, day out is unhealthy and inadequate (tofu only contains 8% protein). While depending on fatty nuts is counterproductive (macadamia nuts, for example, have 76% fat and 8% protein - hardly a high protein food).

Just to mention here that unfermented soya (as in as soya milk, tofu and soya textured protein) is not the healthy food it is purported to be, partly due to its negative effect on thyroid function and partly due to it's high phytate content, which block absorption of many nutrients in the stomach. In contrast, fermented soya, as in miso, tempeh, soya sauce and natto are indeed very good for a woman's health.

The best advice I have to give to vegetarians, and especially vegans, is supplement your diet with a combination of rice, pea or other vegan protein (vegetarians can also have whey and egg protein).


Which is the most filling food component: protein, carbohydrate or fat?

Well, actually none of the above. Fibre is the most satisfying food, and the best source of fibre is not cardboard-tasting wheat bran or polystyrene-looking rice cakes , but nutritious and juicy vegetables.

Protein is second-best as it introduces a feeling of satiety and helps you keep off the naughty fatty, sugary, carby foods that end up being deposited on your bum.

Carbohydrates, comprising sugars and starches, are definitely the least filling foods. Sugary foods, in particular, are the most addictive foods and lead to constant cravings and overeating. The same applies to starches, but to a lesser extent. The low glycaemic index (GI) carbs (pasta, brown rice, fruits) do not induce cravings as potently, whilst the high GI carbohydrates are the worst in that respect (all types of bread, white rice, pastry etc.).

Fats and oils can also be filling but are also extremely calorific, so they are not a solution to the hunger problem as they fill your stomach up, but at the same time they fill your bum with fat too...

In fact, the best way to keep hunger and cravings at bay is by combining vegetables (which are rich in fibre, antioxidants and water and poor in calories) with lean protein, e.g. salmon and loads of broccoli, lean steak with a large salad, prawns with lots of stir-fried vegetables, grilled chicken with mushrooms, peppers and courgettes etc. You get the drift...


How much protein do I need?

As a rule of a thumb, most women need about 40-60g of pure protein per day. This is equivalent to 4-5 eggs, a medium lean beef steak (~200g), a large salmon steak (200-300g), 500-600g of boiled lentils or boiled beans (that's a looot of beans and lentils, as mentioned above), 600g of tofu, or a combination of those or similar foods during any one day.


crash dieting,proetin deficiency and muscle/skin loss

When you fast or crash diet you deny your body of proteins, so you don't just lose so much fat, you lose mainly protein and water. This is because your body utilises your "beauty proteins" in order to provide your vital organs with essential proteins for survival and to synthesise enzymes for basic bodily functions and digestion.

When you go back onto the "pigging out" phase after the crash diet, all the weight you put back on is fat, thereby gradually replacing firmness with fat with each crash diet/pig out cycle. This will inevitably happen every time you follow a crash diet, unless you do four things:

  • Resistance exercise (weights) during the "re-feeding" phase to regain the lost muscle
  • Power plate or high impact sports to regain the lost bone mass and some skin
  • Have vigorous anti-cellulite/skin firming treatments to stimulate the rebuilding of the lost skin proteins
  • Have plenty of protein during and after your diet

As you can see it's cheap and easy to lose your skin firmness and expensive and difficult to regain it, so the advice is simple: avoid regular crash dieting.

By the way, yoga, pilates, lymphatic massages and other lightweight approaches won't help you replace the lost protein on your muscles, bones or skin, as they offer minimal protein synthesis stimulation. Firming/anti-cellulite creams and a high intake of antioxidants and flavanols, typically found in vegetables, berry fruits, herbs and cocoa, can also aid in protein synthesis. Activities such as running and swimming also help.


The moral of the story is...

...that if you want to look firm and keep cellulite at bay you'd better exercise vigorously and regularly, avoid crash dieting, eat enough protein, vegetables, berries, herbs and spices and avoid sugar, excessive carbs, saturated fat, trans fats and anything fried.

In addition, regularly having anti-cellulite treatments and applying a good cellulite cream will also help fill the gaps in your lifestyle and keep your skin toned and smooth.


Whey protein, insulin, immune system, skin firmness and cellulite

Whey, insulin, weight training and cellulite

Whey protein is the best whey protein you can use after weight training or even cardiovascular training. It is the highest biological quality protein you can have, as it contains all the essential aminoacids in a very absorbable form. In addition, because whey significantly boosts insulin, it further boosts its own absorption by muscle cells (insulin boosts the absorption of protein by muscle cells).

Most women today do not have enough protein and this is the reason why so many women suffer from loose skin these days: skin is made of protein and with a low protein diet the body uses up the protein stores in the skin and never replaces them.

So, for most women, the addition of whey protein in the diet is recommended after training, at a daily dosage of about 20-30 grams. This will ensure that both muscles and skin are replenished with all the necessary aminoacids they need for tissue repair, muscle growth and skin firming.


Whey, insulin and sedentary living

However, although whey's insulin production stimulation is a blessing after training, it may prove a curse if you are sedentary. This is because when you are sedentary and eat carbs or fat, excessive insulin stimulates the absorption of carbs and fat by fat cells, leading to obesity and cellulite.

On the other hand, if you are sedentary and on a low carb/low fat diet, excessive insulin will lead to hypoglycaemia, low energy and dizziness.

In general, excessive insulin production at any other time except after exercise is not a good thing for health, as it leads to obesity and is a risk factor for diabetes and cancer.

You may reduce the insulin-stimulating effect of whey by mixing it with fibre (such as chia seeds, flax seeds, oat fibre etc) and healthy fat (such as medium chain triglycerides from coconut oil), which will slow down it's digestion and the consequent insulin release, but the total amount of excess insulin secreted will still remain the same, so this is not a perfect solution.

So, in summary, a high quality whey protein is ideal as a muscle-building, skin firming supplement, immediately after real vigorous exercise (Pilates and Yoga do not qualify as vigorous exercise), together with some carbs (immediately after exercise is the best time to have carbs). Conversely, whey protein is detrimental to your health, your fat stores and cellulite if it is taken when sedentary.


Whey and immune system stimulation

Whey protein is a great way to boost your protein intake and thereby ensure muscle tissue repair and growth and skin repair and firming (muscle and skin is made of protein). However, whey is also a strong immune-stimulating food, which may be either beneficial or detrimental to health, depending on the quality of the product and how it is used.

Whey protein is an immune-stimulating protein as it contains many immune compounds. Most whey proteins that you can buy in "health food" and bodybuilding stores (probably 95% of the market) contain denatured (damaged) immune compounds, due to their harsh processing, such as cross-flow filtration, microfiltration, isolate filtration, hydrolysation and ion exchange.

Denatured immune compounds may irritate the immune system, causing intolerance reactions to sensitive people, which although mild in most cases, in the long run are detrimental for the immune system.


Whey protein itself is not always innocent - what to look for when you buy a whey protein powder

For the reasons described above, it is essential to ensure that you buy pure, "native", non-denatured whey which is as close as to the original component of milk, as possible. Of course, whey produced from organic or grass fed cows is preferred to that produced with industrial farming methods that include hormones, pesticides and other pollutants.

A real, pure whey protein provides immunoglobulins / IgG (including among others bovine serum albumin, alpha-lactalbumin and beta-lactoglobulins), lactoferrin (which ensures proper iron supply into the cells that needs it) and cysteine which is a precursor of glutathione, the most important antioxidant and detoxification factor in the human body.


Even the best whey protein in the world should be used in moderation

Because of it's powerful immune-stimulating effect, whey should not be used excessively or continuously without breaks. But even more importantly, denatured whey should not be used at all, as it can gradually lead to unwanted immune stimulation (intolerances, allergies, auto-immunity etc).

Personally I use 10g of whey every morning mixed with 40g of vegan protein, as I have found whey to be too "heavy" on my system, most probably due to insulin secretion and possibly also due to immune stimulation.

On the other hand, when I go to the gym, I always use a shake with 40g of non-denatured whey protein.


In summary

Pure, native, non-denatured protein is great as a protein supplement:

  • especially if used right after exercise
  • if it is not used in excessive amounts or without breaks
  • if it is not used while sedentary

Normal, cheap, denatured whey should not be consumed at all due to the damage of immunoglobulins contained in it during the manufacturing process.

Did you really think "quinoa is protein"?

"Quinoa is protein"

Quinoa is a South American gluten-free grain that has become very popular in the last few years. As is common with many foods novel to Europe and the US, it was cleverly marketed as "superfood" by the media, in their quest for sensationalistic titles and internet traffic. That clever marketing currently includes the false idea that "quinoa is protein", which in turn resulted in misinformed health-conscious women, further reducing their already low protein intake.


Is white bread "protein"?

Let's examine how rich in protein is quinoa.

Would you say that a food with 11% carbs "is protein"? Of course not! Brown bread, with 11% protein and 54% carbohydrates (4.9x more carbs than protein) is not considered by anyone as a high protein food - it is a high-carb food. Nobody says "brown bread is protein". Even white bread has 12% protein and of course nobody calls it a high protein food.

Then why on earth "nutritionists" say that "quinoa is protein", when cooked quinoa contains only 4.4% protein, almost 3x times less than white bread? With 4.8x times more carbs than protein (21% carbs), quinoa is in fact a high carb food, almost identical in it's carb to protein ratio to bread.

Quinoa has half the protein of beans (cooked navy beans have 8% protein, 3.25x more carbs than protein) or lentils (9% protein, 2.2x more carbs than protein ), almost five times less protein than almonds (21% protein, 1:1 protein & carb ratio) and is a far cry from tofu (8% protein and 4.2x more protein than carbs) and especially eggs (boiled eggs have 13% protein, 11.8x more protein than carbs), lean beef (27% protein, 0% carbs, x more protein than carbs  and 6x times more protein than quinoa), fish (sea bass, for example, has 24% protein, 0% carbs, ∞x more protein than carbs and 5.5x more protein than quinoa).

Granted, the protein is quinoa is gluten-free and of better quality than bread, but it is still a high-carb food, exactly as high as brown bread.

But under no circumstances can one say that a food containing 4.4% protein, such as quinoa, is a high protein food. This is absurd.

Quinoa should more accurately be described as a high carb / high fibre food, which would do justice to it's nutritional qualities, but would not mislead people into thinking that they are ingesting a high protein food, good enough for muscle building, organ protein maintenance, bone health and skin health.

With such misinformation as "you don't need a lot of protein" and "quinoa is protein" touted to the public by so-called "experts", women end up having a very high carb / low protein nutrition, i.e. the opposite of what they need.

With the monthly sugar cravings and the urban myth that "you should only do very light weights because proper weight training will bulk you up overnight", it is no wonder that many women these days complain about loose skin, saggy bits and cellulite...


Glutes are not built with carbs

Don't get me wrong, I love quinoa and I find it a quality CARB food. But when I see protein-starved clients, who have real protein foods only once a week, clinging to the brainwashing they have been fed by the media, I cannot help wanting to set the record straight.

So, in summary, if you wish to get some protein in your body that will replenish those protein stores on your skin, hair, nails, muscles, bones and organs, go for fish, lean beef, chicken and eggs and combine them with loads of vegetables. Or, if you are vegetarian, go for tofu, eggs, beans, lentils and even almonds - and again combine them with loads of vegetables.

But don't raise your hopes too high with so called "high protein foods" like quinoa, in the same way you would not expect bread to give you proper protein after that squat session in the gym. Glutes are not built with carbs.